SMALL HANDS MAKE BIG CHANGES: building radical communities* that support our whole lives and struggle

I ‘m pumped I got the time to write and submit this to “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind #4”. Check the project out at http://dontleaveyourfriendsbehind.blogspot.com

Being involved in various activist/radical circles and networks I had been exposed to enough non-child-friendly spaces, derogatory talk of “breeders” and anti-kid sentiment, to feel anxious about people in these groups finding out I was pregnant. Sadly, I believed that I couldn’t assume, nor trust, that people with whom I felt an affinity with on other counts would support me in my decision to have a child. I anticipated a general lack of support with these new life and personal political challenges and a proliferation of judgement that would assist in ensuring that I would (in spite of my desires) live up to the notion that people who have kids are hetero-normative and stop being active, hence no longer can be revolutionaries. The fact that I felt unsafe in sharing what was going on in my life is as good an indicator as any for me, that there is work that needs doing.

Fortunately, there have been people from these circles who to my surprise have shown great excitement and in principle support for both myself and my daughter’s Dad. However, having moved cities and then countries, I have been unable to experience how this may or may not have translated into practical support.

Since becoming a parent I have also come to realise my own inadequacies from my childfree days in supporting parents, even when I thought that I was being an ally to parents and caregivers upon reflection I now would do things differently.

There is plenty that can be done on both a practical and attitudinal level to prevent the continuation of an uncaring and isolating tendency within our midst which excludes parents/caregivers and kids. We need to start thinking radically differently about parents/caregivers and kids and keep watch over ill-informed assumptions about them that are both hurtful and debilitating in order to build radical communities that both share lives and struggle.

Eliminating discriminatory language, blame and judgement from our radical repertoire

There are discriminatory attitudes and behaviours in radical circles that manifest in language, blame and judgment, that undermine the ability of radical communities to support and include families. Using terms such as “breeder” to describe someone’s choice (or lack thereof) to raise a child creates a hostile and alienating environment for folks with kids. Personally, I have found it very difficult to share my ideas on radical parenting and the process of becoming a parent even with close friends who had used this term frequently in my presence during my childfree days. Pregnancy and early parenthood are challenging times and are times when we can be at our most vulnerable. Negative language and stereotyping of folks with kids only makes things harder.

If other groups of people in the midst of our communities were spoken of in such a way it would not be tolerated. Rarely would any childfree person speak up for parents/caregivers and parents/caregivers are rarely there to challenge this for themselves.

The attitudes that often accompany the use of the term “breeder”, hold parents responsible for their inability to participate in radical spaces and for the changes in lifestyle necessary when faced with minimal support, both in radical spaces and broader society. Somehow the radical status quo has managed to mirror broader society’s individualisation of parental responsibility and thus are isolating parents enforcing a nuclear family model, the same model that many criticise as hetero-normative, consumerist and disengaged from struggle. Through individualising parenting and parental responsibility, critical analysis of the structures that need changing, gender, race and class and how they impact parents/caregivers/kids are overlooked. It seems that capitalism and parenting are only discussed when deriding “breeders” for reproducing workers to turn the cogs of the system.

Kicking the idea that there is something essentially un-radical or un-revolutionary about having kids to the curb.

The idea that having children and practicing radical politics are mutually exclusive is an elitist and damaging one. It is based on the belief that radicalism only takes the forms demonstrated by a childfree lifestyle.

We need to get past the idea that single-issue politics, reactive campaigns and summit hopping are the be all and end all of our political lives. The way people engage in this kind of politics can tend toward an individualised hero-activist mentality, which is primarily about emphasising the political work “I do” rather than the work “my community” does. Failing to see our work in more collective terms is counterproductive to building and acting as radical communities that share life and political struggle. By emphasising individual action this tendency perpetuates limited forms of participation for people responsible for kids.

If we could see our political work as truly integral to our whole lives, then some of us having children (either by choice or situation – being pro-choice isn’t always choosing abortion) would be part and parcel of a lifetime of shared political work, whether our community organise as a collective, organisation, network or other.

Embracing parents and kids may contribute greatly to broadening and grounding the kind of political work we do, which would assist us in building our own inclusive radical communities as well as strengthening our ties with others.

Supporting co-parenting** as an alternative in construction

It is great to hear people talking about co-parenting and even more exciting that people are out there practicing it in ways suited to their own context and situations. However, some talk of co-parenting risks being somewhat of a theoretical orthodoxy that people without kids adopt as a more radical (hence acceptable) way to raise a child and maintain your radical politics (and “cred”). Like open relationships, these kind of alternative relationships take hard work, a lot of responsibility, honest communication, trust and wider networks of support. Co-parenting, like being in an open relationship, shouldn’t be seen as a badge of honour that makes someone more radical than their monogamous or single/dual-parent contemporaries. Co-parenting is not always possible and proclaiming that it is always the best option assumes that we live in some kind of social vacuum free of inhibiting external factors. Co-parenting is not just a simple choice of whether you co-parent or not, but an exercise in building community and alternative relationships in a world that doesn’t support them.

We should focus on sharing experiences and stories of the many different styles of parenting, including co-parenting, in order to learn from each other and support all kinds of parents and caregivers.

Seeing past the scene

Children are important in so many lives and being unable to be flexible to the needs and concerns of folks with kids is a hindering factor in radicals ability to relate to and engage a diversity of people. If we can’t talk to people and respect differing realities, we will only continue to be a radical fringe, that whilst pushes the limits remains a fringe all the same. I know some great people out there who want to be part of a movement not a scene and being able to involve people with kids has to be part of that vision. A great example of seeing past the radical scene is that of the Black Panthers and their dedication to the reality of community through their free breakfast program and education initiatives. This kind of practical support to their community meant that their politics and action was both relevant to and supported by community.

The absence of people with kids from our midst, is evidence of the tendency radicals can have to isolate themselves. A scene is a poor substitute for a radical community that can support people through life changing events and include others that may not share the same predominantly white middle-class well educated life experiences.

Supporting parents/caregivers & little folk

Anyone who has gone through a difficult time in their lives will know how hard it is to ask for support when you need it most. Having a baby is definitely one of these times, particularly if you have gone through a birth or anything else that hasn’t gone to plan. Unsurprisingly, race and class also deeply effect the level of difficulty experienced by new parent/s. Currently little attention is paid to ensure that parents/caregivers/children feel welcome in our spaces/actions and when talking about issues of safer spaces these groups are rarely, if ever, are considered. It cannot be left up to parents/caregivers alone to initiate the conversations, support and structures necessary in including them in building our radical communities. It also cannot be assumed what actions and structures would provide support, as when one has never had the responsibility of raising a child what is thought to be child/parent/caregiver friendly may actually miss the mark. This is an ongoing discussion that needs to happen with folks with kids as well as amongst those of us who don’t when they are noticeably absent.

Aside from creating spaces and structures that are safe for children/parents/caregivers we need to be mindful that the aim cannot simply be to maintain parents/caregivers involvement as it was when they were childfree. Whilst this is on the one hand desirable, it is equally desirable to be able to expand the way that folks can participate in radical spaces/actions, respecting and valuing the different capacities, needs and responsibilities of people engaged in the lives of little people. As mentioned above this would have the add-on effect of broadening and grounding the kind of political work that we do.

Building radical communities

Communities do not preexist, they must be built and for us to build radical communities that go beyond having a single thing in common, we need to respect and involve parents/caregivers/children as we would any other group of people in our midst. With projects such as “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind” and the great work some people are already doing in this area, I believe this is where we are heading. I so look forward to sharing the process and experience of radical parenting with a radical community!

* see here for a great definition of community.

** refers to situations where others who are not in a romantic relationship with the parents are involved in raising children in addition to parents (biological or otherwise).

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